Monday, January 30, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 32: The Purple Menace(s)

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Chris 1, minor illness 0.  Go me!

Unfortunately, the fact that I'm now playing catchup after being useless for a few days means I haven't had time to watch the latest episode yet, so I've got nothing to say about it.  I do, however, have plenty to say about uSea's The Purple Menace(s).  Look after the break to find out if that's a good thing.

Impressions before reading:  This story was the winner of EqD's April Foal's Challenge, beating out 44 other prank-themed stories to claim that title.  I remember reading it at the time, and I know I enjoyed it quite a bit.  That said, I must admit that I voted for another fic in the final poll.  Still, I distinctly remember finding this to be quite funny.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  It's the first April Fool's Day since Luna's return, and she's way out of practice.  So when she discovers that Spike has a reputation around Canterlot Castle as a prankster extraordinaire, she decides to enlist his aid in making this the most memorable April 1st yet.

Thoughts after reading:  The first sentence of the fic reads thus: "For the past five Springs Canterlot Castle had been placed on high alert during the night of March 31st, and security would not have been stepped down until the dawn of April 2nd."  I count two mistakes in that space ("Springs" shouldn't be capitalized, and "would not have been" should be replaced with simply "had not been," for those of you keeping score at home).  As I observed when reviewing a pair of Conner Cogwork's stories, in no place is it more vital to use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling than in the first few sentences.  They set the tone for the rest of your story, and often determine whether or not your audience will continue reading.  Unlike those fics however, this one is far from unreadable.  There are a number of misplaced commas, but by in large the story is otherwise adequately edited, despite a concern-inducing opening.

The Purple Menace(s), like many other fics from that competition, has a minimalist plot designed to deliver a high volume of humor/pranks.  In this, it is completely successful.  At times it feels more like sketch comedy than a coherent story, skipping from character to character and setup to setup as soon as a joke is played out.  Sometimes these rapid-fire transitions work, other times they fall flat.  For an example of the latter, take the two-paragraph cut to Twilight's perspective early in the story.  More than anything else, it feels like the kind of tangentially related aside for which Family Guy has become famous.  A joke with hardly any context can be funny, but as a reader I don't find it particularly satisfying.  Then again, I never enjoyed Family Guy all that much, either.  Maybe folks who do will find this more to their liking.

More to my taste were repeat appearances by The Three Maresketeers, reputedly "the worst guards in Canterlot."  One of several brick jokes which dot the fic, they exemplify the free-spirited slapstick which marks all of this story's high points.  Unabashed goofiness suits uSea's writing style well, in my opinion, and those places where he plays to those strengths really shine.

There are a number of movie/video game/other nerd stuff references scattered throughout this story.  Many probably went over my head--I'm not nearly as well-versed in internet culture as many pony fans seem to be--but I still could hardly miss call-outs to Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail and whatever it is that "Link mah boy!" is from.  As a general rule, I don't like these kind of direct references.  I feel like they distract readers from the story which the author is trying to tell, and are rarely funny enough to justify their inclusion.  However, I think that this story is an exception to that rule.  These references are never used gratuitously (I suppose they're gratuitous by definition, but I mean that they can be read "normally" without confusion or the feeling that one is missing something) and the distraction factor is really irrelevant in this case.  After all, the plot itself only exists as an excuse for the characters to play a few pranks; why would it matter if the reader is pulled away from it by one more thing?

Star rating:    (what does this mean?)

Although some of the jokes wiz by without enough setup or follow-through to really stick, there's still plenty of high-quality comedy to be found here.  And when a line does fall flat, there's sure to be something else to distract the reader within a sentence or two.

Recommendation:  If you're interested in reading something funny, this is for you.  The quality of humor is quite variable, but overall very high.  As a short bit of light humorous reading, there's little to complain about here.

Next time:  Tangled Up in Blues, by The Descendant


  1. Not to quibble with you, but I think that should actually be "would not be", not "had not been".

    And FYI, the "mah boi!" line comes from a series of Legend of Zelda games on the CDi, which are notable for being REALLY TERRIBLE and having awful dialogue delivered by awful voice actors. Look for "Zelda CDi" on YouTube... you'll find them.

    1. "Would not be" would only be correct if referring to the present guards. Since the sentence is describing the guard patterns in the previous five seasons, it should be kept in past tense.

      At least, that's how I understand the linguistic rules in play. If I'm mistaken, please correct me--the only thing worse than a pedant is a pedant who's wrong, after all.

      And thanks for teaching me where "mah boi" comes from. I don't know that I'll ever be able to use that knowledge, but maybe some day I'll end up on an internet meme-themed game show or something. If so, I'll make sure to credit you for my victory.

  2. Thanks for the review, although I think you were being very kind. This is the story that I dislike the most.

    I'm pretty sure the winner of the April Fools competition was Twilight's Last Gleaming by Blueshift.

    Menaces came about because I have lots of terrible puns and I need to inflict them on other people like a bad cough. It also taught me that I shouldn't try writing to a time limit.

    I'm glad you liked the antics of The Three Maresketeers. They're pretty much the only original thing in that story.

    1. Sometimes terrible ideas are great as long as you're not trying to pass them off as good ones. I mean, I couldn't even BEGIN to pretend that all Monty Python humour was good, but you just don't remember the bits that weren't funny.

    2. I did waffle a bit between two and three stars for this story. What pushed it over the top for me was the fact that, despite being meme-filled and jumpy, it was still pretty funny. It probably wouldn't make anyone's "best fanfic" short list, but I think most readers would have no trouble enjoying it for what it is. I think accessibility and broad appeal are valuable traits in a story, and this fic has both.

      Of course, one can go too far and have one's story devolve into pointless, unfunny fanservice, but that obviously didn't happen here. Hence, my rationale for the 3-star.

    3. Yeah it was my story Twilight's Last Gleaming that won the competition.

      I won a commission by Mad Max. Never heard anything back from her, though admittedly I did leave it a while :( :(

    4. Oh in case anyone is reading, I have it now! And it is the most beautiful thing in the world! :)